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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society (1 march 1884)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

This article is a report of the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society published in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle on 1 march 1884.

The report is about the lecture "Earthquakes" held by Major-General A. W. Drayson and attended by Arthur Conan Doyle on 26 february 1884 at the Penny-street Lecture Hall (Portsmouth) where he spoke at some point.


Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society

The seventh ordinary meeting of this Society was held at the Penny-street Lecture Hall, Portsmouth, on Tuesday evening. The President (Major-General A. W. Drayson, R.A., F.R.A.S.) occupied the chair, and there was a good attendance, among the gentlemen present being:— General J. W. Cox, Surgeon-General J. Lamprey, P.M.O., Morris Mile, Esq. (Hon. Sec. Southampton Literary and Philosophical Society), R. W. Lees, Esq., F.R.G.S., Col. J. Waddell Boyd, Captain H. Short, Lieut. Hailstone, Rev. Dr. G. Colborne, Rev. W. J. Staynes, Dr. W. H. Axford, Dr. E. F. Edwards, Dr. G. Smith, Dr. A. Conan Doyle, Dr. C. C. Claremont, Dr. B. Guillemard, Messrs. R. Rawson, R.N., J. M. Ollis, R.N., J. E. Blakeney, G. Ollis, T. Newell, O. Wales, C. F. Wedenby, J. A. Wilson, R.N., Dental-Surgeon W. H. Kirton, A. G. Haydon, M. Semen Gardner, E. Byrne, A. H. Ozzard, R.N., C. Constantine, E. F. Burton, G. Dimmer, J. W. Atkins, H. Murrell, H. C. Hurry, C. Spratt, W. McCallum, C. Foran, J. T. Hurst Stafford, C. J. Knight, G. F. Bell, Dr. J. Ward Cousins (Hon. Sec.), &c.


Illustrated by a number of diagrams and coloured views, was read by Mr. R. W. LEES, of Southampton. In commencing, the lecturer gave a cursory description of the formation of the earth's crust, dealing with the different strata and the varied formation of rocks. He then proceeded to describe several notable earthquakes of past and present generations, detailing the phenomena which accompanied them and the effects which they produced. The earthquake which occurred at Lisbon, in 1755, that at Jamaica in 1692, and that at Calabria in 1876 were particularly referred to. Coming the consideration of the causes of earthquakes, the essayist said that the attendants of these phenomena were irregularity in the seasons immediately before or after the shocks; sudden gusts of wind, interrupted by unusual calms; violent rains at unusual seasons, or in countries where rain was almost unknown; a redness of the sun's disc, and a haziness in the air often continued for months; an escape of electrical matter or inflammable gases from the soil; the utterance of unusual cries by animals; and a sensation as of sea-sickness, combined with pains in tins head, experienced by men. Among the appearances in the earth's upper strata which testified that earthquakes had taken place in the neighbourhood where they were to he found were beaches frequently raised high above their natural level. Many such beaches were to be met with in the British Isles. The lecturer referred to the fact that the upheaval of the earth by shocks from the interior frequently counteracted the gradual decrease of mountains, &c., owing to the washing away by the sea of particles crumbled by the action of the air. It had been asserted that the crust of the earth is or has been is a state of constant alteration by earthquakes. The generally accepted notion as to the causes of earthquakes, and to which he gave in his adherence, was that they resulted from the transmission of waves of shock having their origin in some point within the crust of the earth, where a sudden and terrible blow of some kind had taken place. The principle of the transmission of these waves of shock was supposed to be somewhat similar to the extension in circles of the waves caused by throwing a stone into smooth water. There was this difference, however, that in the case of earthquakes the expansion of the waves was in a vertical instead of a horizontal direction, and frequent modifications of their force were met with in the shape of different rocks and strata, as well as "faults" in the formation of the earth's crust. At the point where these waves of shock first reached the earth's surface the earthquake was felt most severely. Mr. Mallet had elaborated a system by which they could ascertain the part of the earth's crust where the original disturbance took place, but he advised them to be cautious in entirely accepting this theory, owing to the many modifications he had referred to. Regarding the question as to what was the motive force of the forces which gave rise to these waves of shock, the lecturer said that in these days of explosions from various causes we need have no difficulty in imagining sufficient material in the earth to cause any amount of explosive force. Earthquakes possessed many features in common with volcanic, eruptions, and they generally took place in the same districts, and at about the same time. The popular theory that the earth was once a mass of molten material, and that beneath the comparatively thin crust it is still in the same condition was, he pointed out disputed by many eminent geologists. Whatever conclusion they might come to as to the exact nature of the internal heat, it must, he thought, be admitted that heat there was, and that within the earth there were, at any rate, seas of molten matter, lava, &c. It was also considered that the decomposition of water, which somehow or other, was brought under the influence of this heat, had something to do with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the French geologist Dolbreau was of opinion that the surface water penetrated into the earth's interior and largely brought about these results. Water, however, was not necessarily the only motive power, for it was not impossible that within the cavities of the earth gases might exist under immense pressure in a liquid or semi-liquid state, which only needed liberating to bring about all the phenomena noted. Another idea was that the internal seas of molten lava, together with a large amount of water in decomposition, had communication through several passages with the atmosphere surrounding the earth, and that the variations in the pressure of the atmosphere produced similar variations is the rise and fall of these molten liquids. It had also been suggested by Perren that the influence of the sun and moon in raising and depressing the earth's crust had much to do with earthquakes, which always occurred when the sun and moon were nearest the earth. Electricity and magnetism were also supposed to exercise considerable influence is the matter. The lecturer concluded with a somewhat elaborate explanation of the causes of the gradual upheaval and depression of the earth's surface which had been noted.

The PRESIDENT, in moving a vote of thanks to Mr. Lees, said that he thought the true causes of earthquakes had not yet been arrived at. It was impossible that all the theories advanced on the subject could be correct, but so far from deprecating the indulgence in theories he considered that observation without speculation was practically useless in the matter of earthquakes. Earthquakes, in England and elsewhere, were more numerous than most people imagined, as the delicate instruments used by astronomers testified by frequent vibrations traceable to no other cause than an agitation of the earth's crust. He was disposed to think that electricity had something to do with earthquakes, and there was in use in South America, where earthquakes were frequent, a simple magnetic instrument so constructed as to invariably give notice, by the disturbance of the magnetic attraction, of an approaching earthquake. In opposition to the popular theory that the earth was once in a molten condition, he instanced the fact that where a "fault" occurred in a sloping vein of metal it was always found that the continuation of the vein towards the surface was on the "downcast side," thus evidencing expansion, rather than contraction, of the earth's crusts — General COX seconded the vote of thanks, and mentioned an earthquake he had witnessed while on service in Afghanistan, the result of which was that some large stones forming the parapet of a fort where the English troops were located were thrown down, without any damage being done to the lower walls. The enemy being located not far distant, they were in momentary fear of being attacked under such disadvantageous circumstances. The troops set to work, however, and replaced the stones unmolested, and it was afterwards ascertained that the enemy, whose forts suffered even more severely, supposed that the English alone had escaped the effects of the earthquake. (Laughter.) The gallant general added that he had seen in Jamaica the tombstone of a Frenchman, who was said to have been swallowed up by an earthquake there and then thrown to the surface again, and who lived for 47 years afterwards. — The HON. SECRETARY (Dr. J. Ward Cousins), in supporting the vote, expressed an opinion that earthquakes were governed by natural laws as much as the terrestrial bodies, and that probably in earthquakes themselves we have instances of the stability of our sphere. — The Rev. W. J. STAYNES said that a difficulty presented itself to his mind as to whence came the fuel which supplied the heat supposed to exist in the earth's interior. — Dr. CONAN DOYLE and Dr. C. C. CLAREMONT also took part in the discussion. — The vote was unanimously carried, and Mr. LEES, in responding, said he believed that both magnetism and electricity had much to do with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. As to the question regarding the supply of fuel for keeping up the heat in the interior of the earth, he pointed out that this might be explained by chemical action. If, for instance, granite and gneiss were to be found in the centre of the earth, together with carbonic acid, the fact of the acid decomposing the granite and gneiss and forming carbonates would in itself constitute fuel.


In the course of the evening the PRESIDENT made allusion to the loss the Society was about to sustain in the approaching departure from Portsmouth of the Rev. Dr. KENNEDY-MOORE. During the time that gentleman had belonged to the Society he had been one of its most active and energetic members. (Hear, hear.) He was a gentleman of great mental culture and ability, and he constantly brought his great store of knowledge to bear upon every topic brought forward for consideration at their meetings. He had occupied the position of President with credit to himself and satisfaction to the members, and had frequently taken part at their meetings by reading papers and otherwise rendering valuable assistance. (Hear, hear.) The President concluded by saying that in expressing his own very great regret at the loss the Society had sustained by the departure of Dr. Moore, he was sure he was expressing also the deep regret of every member, and that they all sincerely visited the Doctor every happiness and prosperity in his new sphere of labour. (Applause.)